And please take note: it occupies the first place in Mr. Tommasini's column--AND the first piece in the entire list!
Grieg: 'Peer Gynt'
Estonian National Symphony, conducted by Paavo Jarvi (Virgin Classics).
Grieg's two short "Peer Gynt" suites have long been repertory staples. But Grieg actually wrote more than 90 minutes of incidental music for Ibsen's existential play about a restless young man who leaves his devoted mother, his steadfast girlfriend and his homeland to seek exotic adventures, only to return in old age, broken and remorseful.
Paavo Jarvi's brilliant recording presents a 60-minute version of the score, based on a scholarly edition that represents Grieg's final wishes. The familiar music is here, including a chilling account of "In the Hall of the Mountain King," complete with shrieking chorus. But there are also the original "Arabian Dance," with an alluring women's chorus and a sultry song for Anitra; "Solveig's Song," complete, sung exquisitely by Camilla Tilling; and even pieces for solo violin that make Norwegian and Appalachian fiddle music seem not that far apart.
This is a surprise highlight of the year.
And wouldn't this make the perfect gift for that person who has everything? :-)